“Read More” to pursue answers from Ecclesiastes.
Draw me into your holy Presence, that I might know you as my Father
And manifest the image of Christ in this world, and the world to come. Amen.
So given that we live in a world where wisdom fails, death is inevitable, evil often triumphs, and God remains inscrutable — how then should we live?
Cast thy bread upon the waters: for thou shalt find it after many days.
Rather than mere wistfulness, I see this as a profound assertion of faith in the ultimate benevolence of the universe. In other words, since we live in an non-zero universe — rather than closing up and holding on to what is ours, it is both rational and right to open up and give:
Give a portion to seven, and also to eight; for thou knowest not what evil shall be upon the earth.
Fascinating! Far from ignoring or denying the power of evil, he uses that very uncertainty as the goad to spur us on to good works:
If the clouds be full of rain, they empty [themselves] upon the earth: and if the tree fall toward the south, or toward the north, in the place where the tree falleth, there it shall be.
For he knows that to do otherwise would be to freeze in indecision:
He that observeth the wind shall not sow; and he that regardeth the clouds shall not reap.
In other words, he seems our own finiteness as a call for humility, not despair:
As thou knowest not what [is] the way of the spirit, [nor] how the bones [do grow] in the womb of her that is with child: even so thou knowest not the works of God who maketh all.
But because we trust in (submit to) the “God who maketh all” — even if everything else is unsure! — let us do all the good we can:
In the morning sow thy seed, and in the evening withhold not thine hand: for thou knowest not whether shall prosper, either this or that, or whether they both [shall be] alike good.
Similarly, we should not just work hard, but live fully:
Truly the light [is] sweet, and a pleasant [thing it is] for the eyes to behold the sun:
And though we ought not to forget that our lives are finite:
But if a man live many years, [and] rejoice in them all; yet let him remember the days of darkness; for they shall be many. All that cometh [is] vanity.
Why not let that thought spur us on to enjoying the life we do have?
Rejoice, O young man, in thy youth; and let thy heart cheer thee in the days of thy youth, and walk in the ways of thine heart, and in the sight of thine eyes:
Not in reckless abandon, but in the sure knowledge of God’s covering:
but know thou, that for all these [things] God will bring thee into judgment.
For youth is gone all to swiftly:
Therefore remove sorrow from thy heart, and put away evil from thy flesh: for childhood and youth [are] vanity.
Therefore we must store up memories for the end:
Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth, while the evil days come not, nor the years draw nigh, when thou shalt say, I have no pleasure in them;
I am not yet forty, but I am old enough to hear the echoes of my own mortality in his poetic vision of age:
While the sun, or the light, or the moon, or the stars, be not darkened, nor the clouds return after the rain: In the day when the keepers of the house shall tremble, and the strong men shall bow themselves, and the grinders cease because they are few, and those that look out of the windows be darkened, And the doors shall be shut in the streets, when the sound of the grinding is low, and he shall rise up at the voice of the bird, and all the daughters of musick shall be brought low; Also [when] they shall be afraid of [that which is] high, and fears [shall be] in the way, and the almond tree shall flourish, and the grasshopper shall be a burden, and desire shall fail: because man goeth to his long home, and the mourners go about the streets:
And the destiny that awaits us all, if the Lord tarries:
Or ever the silver cord be loosed, or the golden bowl be broken, or the pitcher be broken at the fountain, or the wheel broken at the cistern. Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was: and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it. Vanity of vanities, saith the preacher; all [is] vanity.
So is that our final end? Apparently not, for we still have one small epilogue — almost a book-jacket blurb:
And moreover, because the preacher was wise, he still taught the people knowledge; yea, he gave good heed, and sought out, [and] set in order many proverbs. The preacher sought to find out acceptable words: and [that which was] written [was] upright, [even] words of truth.
Which give us some context for understanding the “pointedness” of his sayings:
The words of the wise [are] as goads, and as nails fastened [by] the masters of assemblies, [which] are given from one shepherd.
As well as what one might think a warning against taking this book — or any book! — too seriously:
And further, by these, my son, be admonished: of making many books [there is] no end; and much study [is] a weariness of the flesh.
Moreover — perhaps concerned that we might’ve missed the point — the epiloguer ends by stating what they see as the bottom line:
Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this [is] the whole [duty] of man. For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether [it be] good, or whether [it be] evil.
While a bit anti-climactic for my tastes (I would’ve preferred something a bit more paradoxical :-), I think it it a fair summation. And perhaps it is a fitting paradox after all, that a book like this would ultimately end with the beginning of wisdom!
God, thank you so much for the book of Ecclesiastes. I boggles the mind that three thousand or so years ago, someone (else) wrestled with the hedonism, existentialism, and nihilism that seem such a part of our “modern” world. Father, as I dare to stare with unblinking eyes into the darkness outside — and inside! — may I learn to fear neither the dark nor the light, but you alone. For I know that whatever is done for You, and for Love, will never be in vain. For this, like all things, I surrender to you in and by the name of Jesus. Amen.